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100 Still Missing in Russian Avalanche

September 24, 2002|From Times Wire Services

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia — One man reported missing after a devastating avalanche in southern Russia was found unharmed Monday, but more than 100 people remained lost and authorities feared that the number could rise.

Two bodies were recovered Monday in the immediate vicinity of the avalanche, bringing the number of those found to eight, a duty officer at the headquarters for the rescue effort said. Emergency officials have said they feared that as many as 150 people were killed in Friday's avalanche.

"I haven't lost hope, but when I saw from a helicopter what had happened, the conclusions are not comforting," said Lev Dzugayev, the top aide to the president of North Ossetia, a small republic in the mountains near the Georgian border where the disaster occurred.

The avalanche happened when a chunk of glacier about 500 feet high broke off from beneath a mountain peak and roared down two gorges at more than 62 mph, uprooting trees and accumulating mud and rocks as it went.

According to a list compiled from relatives, 113 people were still missing Monday, said Alan Doyev, a press spokesman for the Interior Ministry of North Ossetia. The list could grow, Doyev said, as information comes in on shepherds and watchmen at remote tourist camps high in the mountains.

One watchman was found unharmed near the mineral lode where he works, said Boris Dzgoyev, head of North Ossetia's Emergency Situations Ministry.

On Monday, rescue workers trudged up steep banks of grime, past tree trunks ripped out of the ground by the force of the avalanche, and hacked away at truck-sized lumps of ice with hand tools.

An official said the fallen ice was melting. In the flooded village of Gornaya Saniba, only the rooftops and chimneys of houses were visible.

A team of experts was in the region to try to discover the cause of the disaster, which an Interior Ministry spokesman said might be connected to global warming.

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